Information-sharing platform hacked

Homeland Security Information Network suffers intrusions

The Homeland Security Department’s platform for sharing sensitive but unclassified data with state and local authorities was hacked recently, a DHS official has confirmed.

The intrusion into the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) was confirmed to Federal Computer Week by Harry McDavid, the chief information officer for DHS’ Office of Operations Coordination and Planning. McDavid said the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team reported an intrusion into the system in late March. The initial hack was brief and limited, and it was followed by a more extensive hack in early April, McDavid said.

The hacker or hackers gained access to the data by getting into the HSIN account of a federal employee or contractor, McDavid said. The bulk of the data obtained was federal, but some state information was also accessed, he added, and the organizations that owned the data and Congress were notified of the intrusion.

The files that were accessed contained administrative data such as telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of state and federal employees. However, an investigation into the incidents has found that no Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers or financial data were obtained, McDavid said.

Because HSIN is a sensitive but unclassified network “no information can be posted on HSIN that would cause anything more than minor damage to the homeland security mission,” he said, adding that none of the accessed files dealt with the operations of either federal or state agencies that use HSIN.

McDavid said he did not know of other successful hacks into the platform. He called the tactics used to gain access to the user account “very sophisticated.” However, he said the amount of data accessed was relatively minor and that officials have been able to map exactly what files were accessed.

“We immediately put in place a package of mitigation actions,” he said. “One of those actions was to install two-factor identification on certain accounts that would preclude this identical type of intrusion from occurring again.”

Ongoing work to upgrade HSIN has allowed DHS to quickly deploy new security measures to prevent similar intrusions from occurring, McDavid said. DHS awarded a contract worth as much as $62 million in May 2008 to upgrade HSIN to the HSIN Next Gen platform. Officials say HSIN Next Gen will better meet users’ needs and improve security.

McDavid said DHS’ investigation into the incident found that no latent malicious code or applications were left behind. In addition, he said that although an authorized account was used to gain access to the system, no HSIN users had been found to be at fault and officials are working on a report about the hack for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The report is expected to be completed this summer, he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Fri, May 29, 2009 Andrew M. Colarik www.AndrewColarik.com

When DHS first proposed the web-based sharing plan they put out a request for comments. In that response, I let them know that such web-based sharing systems can never truly be secured. That the focus of securing any system should be centered around the data and how it can be used in the event of a breach. They went ahead anyways...

Wed, May 20, 2009

So is DHS itself filing a report? It seems we need GAO to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse. Besides, isn't it funny and scary that DHS is trying to "standardize" on the same vulnerable platform that has been compromised repeatedly? Duh. Who are making these decisions anyway and how do they come to these conclusions? Are the decisions made based on facts or airline magazines? Why do we entrust our homeland safety on these incompetent self-made experts?

Mon, May 18, 2009

Perhaps something a tad more secure than two-factor authentication might be called for here. There are many, many options for this, including dynamic security questions, third-party authenticator portals, and the list goes on. What *is* the HSIN mission? The DHS Intelligence & Analysis directorate has splintered off and started their own SLIC channel for information sharing, and FEMA has long-standing protocols for comms through the ICS. US VISIT and ICE programs also communicate between states and feds when it comes to anti-terror and immigration issues, CBP has their own ties, and well...the list goes on. What *is* the HSIN mission?

Thu, May 14, 2009

Gads, you make this HACK seem so innocent. HSIN Next Gen is nothing more than another $62M of tax payers money on top of the original $90M of tax payers money (MY MONEY)for something that obviously does not work for a HUGE $150M. Is this the same system that was in the media recently for government spending so much and getting so little in return, which doesn't work, that Congress said stop spending on? Give me back my money please!!!

Thu, May 14, 2009 TK

TFA should be deployed on every network in the US Govt. Don't these people know that this is the only way to prevent unauthorized access? Slow to action will cause a lot more pain for us in the future.

Show All Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group